Monaghan took the points on Saturday evening in the senior football championship in a game that had two separate facets to its whole.
It was a very good, intense contest when the teams and sidelines were focused on football. Both teams had match winners in their mix with impressive defensive play at both ends of the park.
On a beautiful evening, though, the game took on a different life as it turned into a rough and tumble affair with a lot of the negatives of football coming to light. Late tackles, late hits and rule breaking antics went unpunished, and the game then continued in a direction that did nothing for football.
A host of players were fortunate to remain unpunished, but that created a vibe where other players added to the problem as they became frustrated with the whistle blowing or lack thereof. A mentor was sent off but a player or two should have preceded him perhaps which may have helped to control the game.
That said we all have off days -- I would be the first to raise my hand in the 15 years that I have worn the whistle in ladies football, hurling and men’s football. However, there were at least 15 mentors between the two sides on the sideline on Saturday night when there should only be 10 in total, and that’s including the people with water.
It certainly doesn’t help a ref in his task at hand. Every game in New York has mentors halfway in the field, constantly. That’s something the board needs to review.
Donegal dominated the opening 15 minutes, and they were leading 1-2 to 0-1 thereafter. But with the diagonal breeze at their backs it was not a high enough percentage against the possession meter.
Monaghan slowly and methodically came into the game with frees from Paul McArdle helping them, while improved play at the back from Paul Lambe and Liam Deane nullified a number of Donegal attacks.
At the break it was just a two point advantage, 1-5 to 0-6, as a number of wides hurt their cause despite the dominating open thirty by Brendan Quigley.
Monaghan drew level to open the second half when McArdle had another score, while Kevin Connolly also had a point from distance to help their cause.
Donegal moved the ball into the Monaghan half but it was stopped time and again between the 45 and 21 due to suffocating defense and a number of calls for frees that never materialized or were given, before Monaghan won the ball and moved in the other direction.
With time winding down, Donegal had a call for a free that never arrived while Kevin Smith made an important stop before leaving due to injury. Alan Hearty also had a good stop from a dropping ball in the square. Time ticked away on Donegal and what looks like their chances in the championship.
A lot will be said about this game and written I’m sure. One glaring fact -- it had all the makings of a humdinger, especially in the opening half. No blanket defenses. No outlandish tactics. Just good, salt of the earth, tough, uncompromising football.
A number of spectators stated the same at the break. The winners had a host of good performances. Alan Hearty was confident and was powerless for the goal. In the late stages he was a confident security blanket at the last line especially under the dropping ball.
Paul Lambe came to grips after a slow start on Robbie Tasker and is having an outstanding year. An award caliber one. Sean Kelly and the excellent Liam Deane had numerous stops over the hour -- the young Irish American was a revelation in the defensive end. Smyth and White battled hard throughout. Kevin went into the fire a number of times before retiring due to injury.
Paul O’Hara was unlucky to be taken off. He wasn’t shirking from the heavy tackling and has a great head on the shoulders. Paul McArdle did well from limited supply.
Donegal doesn’t have a major problem at the defensive end. It is due to having a sweeper. Kenny O’Connor did it for a period, while Mark McHugh did a lot of hard work in the trenches. Dan Geraghty and Michael Clarke were solid in the last line. Brendan Quigley was the most prominent of the four midfielders and took a host of heavy knocks but carried the ball extremely well.
With a full forward line that has Robbie Tasker and Conor Lynam, one would figure that the horses are in place for scores. Tasker started brightly but the spare man in the Monaghan defense cut out the supply line. A ball carrying number 11 may be needed or a long range shooter to keep defenses honest.
Three points in the second half is just not good enough, and it has developed into a weekly pattern as the same occurred last time out.
Monaghan: 1 Alan Hearty, 2 Paul Lambe, 3 Sean Kelly, 4 Fergal Malone, 5 Paul Farhan, 6 Shane Bogue, 7 Liam Deane, 8 Kevin Smith, 9 Gary White, 10 Caoimhin O’Callaghan, 11 Paul O’Hara, 12 Ross McKenna, 13 Kevin Connolly, 14 Paul McArdle, 15 James Connolly.
Donegal: 1 Brian Cuilinan, 2 Michael Clarke, 3 Dan Geraghty, 4 Dan Jackson, 5 Steven Duffy, 6 Mark McHugh, 7 Paul McGinley, 8 Brendan Quigley, 9 Colin Devlin, 10 Jackie McHugh, 11 PJ Flanagan, 12 Joe Bell, 13 Robbie Tasker, 14 Ken O’Connor, 15 Conor Lynam.